Few actors in the world of Hollywood can be instantly identified by their voice alone, with the unique tones of Christopher Walken becoming a part of pop culture in and of itself. Starring in such films as Catch Me If You Can, The Deer Hunter and the Palme d’Or winning Quentin Tarantino classic, Pulp Fiction, Walken brings his unique, laid-back personality to each and every role he commits to.
So, for such an iconic American actor, how did he develop such an accent that seems to dip into Australian, Swedish and Canadian all at the same time? The answer isn’t a straightforward one, nor is it entirely complicated, with the actor having developed the voice after a childhood surrounded by an eclectic mix of accents.
“Both my parents had heavy accents,” he told CBS News in 2012, making reference to his family’s German and Scottish heritage. Continuing, he explained: “It’s a rhythm thing — people who speak English where they have to hesitate and think of the right word. And I think it rubbed off”.
Born in Queens, New York in 1943, Walken is the son of Scottish and German immigrants, with both parents working to keep the family running by operating their own bakery in a neighbourhood of various ethnicities and voices. Hearing “lots of Greek, Italian, Polish, German, Yiddish,” the young actor developed a way of speaking that incorporated many different inspirations, becoming something of a strange vocal concoction.
Speaking to The Observer in 2016, Walen explained: “I think I grew up listening to people who spoke English in a kind of broken way,” adding that he soaked up the accents around him to create his own unique tone. Throw these eclectic ingredients in with the tone of Queens, New York and it’s no wonder that Walken has developed such a bizarre voice that has helped him climb to the very top of the industry.
Having claimed several influential roles throughout his filmography, one of Christopher Walken’s finest and most underappreciated characters was in the 1990 crime film by Abel Ferrara, King of New York.
Playing a psychotic drug lord who shares his profits with the poor, Walken plays the titular king of the city, Frank White, in this camp crime movie that explores how times change if you’re not willing to keep up with its rapid evolution. Co-starring the likes of Laurence Fishburne, Wesley Snipes, Giancarlo Esposito and Steve Buscemi, the film is considered something of a cult classic